Two members of The Don Lewis Quartet may be in their late 60s, but they can still knock out some jazzy tunes.
Tenor-sax player Don Lewis Kilpatrick, 67, who goes by the name Lewis, and piano player Fred Burton, 69, came to the Rio Abajo Lodge on Tenth Street in Belen Saturday night as part of the annual Musicians and Friends 1950s Reunion. Musicians and friends from the Albuquerque area have been reuniting every year since 1995, as they celebrate their friendship with dinner, followed by some jazz sets.
The reunion committee, chaired by Lewis, usually opts to hold the gatherings in Albuquerque, but they decided to hold this year’s get-together at the lodge because of its spaciousness and the soul food cooking of CC’s Back Kitchen, managed and owned by the Speed and Montgomery families. Adding some excitement to the reunion was disk jockey Paul Cross of Smooth Jazz 101.5 FM, who even sang one song.
To kick off the evening, Charlie “Hands” Brown entertained the group with some soothing keyboard tunes for at least an hour. Later, the Lewis Quartet played before a capacity dinner crowd that really started rocking and swaying when the group went into a popular jazz tune called “Watermelon Man.” Two alto-sax players belted out the lead notes on this one, backed by the full sound of Lewis on tenor sax, with some pumped-up rhythm from the Congo-drum thumping and cowbell rapping.
Besides Lewis and Fred Burton, Doug Burton strummed bass guitar and Wayne Johnson played drums to round out the rest of the Lewis Quartet. Sitting in on sax were Marty Fitzsimons and Ben McClen, while Louie Guzman helped out on the keyboard.
Lewis, who was born in Midland, Texas, formed the quartet in 1994 after he retired from General Electric in Albuquerque. Lewis used to play different Albuquerque clubs in the 1950s, such as the Vagabond, no longer open, and the Silver Dollar in Isleta. Even though the Silver Dollar closed its doors awhile back, some Lewis fans from his days at the club showed up Saturday night and requested that the band play an old tune, “Satin Doll.” Before that, the group opened with the jazz number “Red Top,” as Lewis cut loose on his tenor.
“I like doing the old standards and bee-bop stuff,” Lewis said in an interview before the show. “We do a lot of Miles Davis and Coltrane, too.”
The group does not have a trumpet player, so the sax player takes the lead. Gene Ammons, no longer alive, and Harold Land are two sax players whom Lewis admires, “but I do my own thing,” he said.
Fred Burton, who grew up in San Francisco, started playing the trombone at 13, when he was in high school.
“My first gig was for $10 out in San Francisco,” Burton recalled.
At 15, Burton began playing with adults in nightclubs. Originally a trumpet player, he made his rounds to different clubs across the Land of Enchantment.
“I played all over New Mexico in the ’60s,” Burton said of his trumpet-playing days.
As a solo piano player, Burton played the big cocktail lounges in Kansas City, Houston and San Antonio. In Houston, he even played with different blues bands.
With the exception of his tour of duty in the Korean conflict as a B-29 gunner with the 15th Wing of the U.S. Air Force, Burton has been a musician all his life. However, he had one three-year gig when he drove an 18-wheeler truck, he joked.
Rounding out the rest of the evening were some vocals by Freddie Williams, Katherine Thomson, Telford Knox and Lola Lestrick.